Dawson County got a taste of fall and an answer to their questions on May 17 when the Tigers defeated Pickens County by a score of 16-10 in the 2019 spring football game in Tiger Stadium. The annual scrimmage celebrates the end of two weeks of tryouts and is the first glimpse that both fans and coaches will have of the team at full speed until the end of summer.
The Tigers are entering a rebuilding year after graduating 28 seniors from last year’s roster. The loss extended across both sides of the ball and included the offensive and defensive line, the team’s top two scorers, the team leader in sacks and the team leader in tackles.
A stout Tiger defense took to the field in the first half and quickly put to rest any doubts about their ability to follow in the footsteps of last year’s top-10 unit as they held the Dragons scoreless through two quarters of play.
Senior Kobe Rea and junior Nathaniel Mitchell both recorded tackles for a loss as they consistently penetrated the offensive line to disrupt the backfield. Under constant pressure, the Pickens County quarterbacks found little rhythm in the passing game, with the first of three interceptions ending the Dragon’s final drive of the half.
An equally tough defensive performance from Pickens County kept the Tigers between the twenties during their time with the ball, and only the combination of a turnover and a penalty got the team within range to attempt a last-second 47-yard field goal that went just outside the left upright despite having plenty of distance.
“Our defense looks good,” Tight end and Halfback Coach Tony Kinjanko said. “Still rusty on offense, but it’s the first scrimmage of the season, for some of these kids it’s their first taste of battle at the varsity level. We saw a lot, and now we know what is coming.”
Despite giving up a 57-yard touchdown early in the second half, the Dawson County defense continued to control the tempo of the game, nabbing two more interceptions in the half and forcing the Dragons into three-and-out series on all but two possessions.
“We struggled where we expected to struggle, and we struggled in some areas we didn’t expect,” Linebacker Coach Greg Baloga said. “But there were some areas where we were way ahead of what we thought. For example, I didn’t expect our passing reads to be so good right now.”
The offense came to life for the Tigers on the first drive of the second half as sophomore quarterback Zac Holtzclaw drove the team down field behind a series of passes to senior wide receiver Riley Herndon before handing the ball to running back Will Whalen, who punched it in from two yards out to give the Tigers the lead.
Freshman quarterback Keegan Stover took over under center late in the third quarter to lead the Tigers on their second scoring drive of the half as he also relied on Herndon to move the ball down field but ultimately found junior Tripp Caine for the touchdown.
“Knowing I had a young quarterback in the backfield I knew I had to be explosive on the field,” Herndon said. “It’s my job as a senior, to pump him up, get him ready to play.”
Returning kicker Caleb Bonesteel demonstrated the final weapon in the Tigers arsenal for 2019 as he launched a 47-yard field goal straight through the uprights to bring the final score to 16-10 and set the expectation for another successful year of Dawson County football.